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8 Ways For Authors to Waste Their Money

Publishing a book can get quite expensive. A good cover designer can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars, and the editorial costs alone can set you back even more.

While there are many important expenses, there are also many ways to spend money and get nothing useful back. For example, take the Bowker SAN. This costs $150, and is basically a way for you to list your physical address in a Bowker database – something you can do with your website, or  dozen other services, at no cost to yourself.

I recently polled a number of experts, including David Gaughran, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Joel Friedlander, Victoria Strauss,  Jane Friedman, and Hugh Howey. The following post lists a few of the things they thought were a waste of money.

The first items was suggested by Robin Sullivan, business manager and wife of author Michael Sullivan.

Promoting an Author’s First Book

Robin gives monthly seminars in book publishing, and a couple months back she revealed that authors should not start marketing their books until after they have published the third book.

She based this on the observation that readers don’t just buy a book by an author they like, they buy as many of that author’s books as they can afford. If an author only a single book out, they can only make one sale per reader, which is why they should wait until they have several books to sell.


Of all the suggestions made by the experts, publicists topped the list, with several experts saying that publicists just weren’t worth the cost. "They don’t do much you can’t do on your own, and what they do, they do poorly," I was told."They also cost tens of thousands of dollars."

It would cost less to learn how to do the work yourself (or at least get a virtual assistant to do it), and you’ll get better results.

Email & Social Media Blast Services

Another great way for an author to waste their money would be to pay a service to tweet about the author’s book to a service’s million robofollowers on Twitter and Facebook, or pay to have a press release sent to 10,000+ news  outlets.

Here’s the thing about spam. Whether you send it by email or social media, hardly any real people see it, and most don’t want to get the spam. It is immediately deleted (or worse, dumped in the spam folder before it is ever seen).

So there’s no value is spamming everyone.

The better way is to take the personal approach. Identify the sites and bloggers you want to work with, learn what they are interested in, and pitch them one at a time.

Buying Followers – Newsletter, Twitter, or Facebook

If there is one thing that is just as worthless as spamming people who don’t want to see your message, it’s paying to add followers to your social media accounts or newsletter.

It might look like a worthwhile shortcut, but in reality the followers are all going to either be (in the case of social media) bots or (if we’re talking about email addresses) random people whose emails were sold to mailing lists without their consent.

So if you do buy followers you will end up with followers who either don’t exist or have no real interest in hearing from you.

That’s why you should save your money, and accept the fact that followers have to be recruited one at a time.

Classes on the "Secrets" of Millions Sales

Like most professions, it takes a lot of learning to be a successful author, and you have to keep picking up new tricks all the time. And there are many experts out there who can teach you what you need to know, but there are also a lot of scammers who promise more than they can deliver.

Authors would be wise to avoid any course that promise to show you "the secret" to getting millions of sales. Before you sign up, you should check to see if the "guru" has actually written and sold a lot of books or just teaches marketing courses for a living.

Many of these million "sellers" have either given away most of their copies or sold the copies of their fiction books at a loss. Other have sold hardly any books at all, and are making money from their marketing tips, not from their writing.

Anti-Piracy Services

Piracy is a scourge, right? Not according to Neil Gaiman, who regards it as free marketing, or Baen Books, a publisher that gives ebooks away and sells the rest DRM-free, or The Authors Guild, whose data shows that piracy isn’t a serious problem.

There are many companies that promise to scour the web and remove pirated copies of your books, but before you hire one I will let you in on a secret. Most "pirate" sites are pretending to have a copy of  pirated book. They’re usually running some type of scam (it varies) but they are not committing piracy so it makes little sense to pay a service to go after them.

Any Service that Promises to Get Your Book on a Best-Seller List

A quick Google search will turn up a dozen services that will get you on the New York Times, Amazon, or other bestseller lists. In a lot of cases, they can get you on that list, but only at a cost.

When it comes to the NYTimes list, you’re going to end up buying thousands of copies of your own book – a five-digit expense. It has been done, but some have also been caught out as frauds for using this trick, permanently marring their reputations.

And even if you’re not publicly exposed, buying your way on to a lot can have negative consequences. If Amazon catches you gaming their best-seller list they will punish you. At a minimum they will remove the ebook from their list, and for particularly egregious or repeat offenders Amazon has been known to remove  the ebook in question or even ban suspected offenders – permanently.

Is it really worth the risks or costs?

* * *

There you have it; eight services and products that can cost you upwards of thousands of dollars and deliver nothing of value.

While these services are expensive and worthless, they are really just a few of the many ways that authors can waste money.

Have you found a worthless service not mentioned above?

If so, why don’t we crowd-source a more complete list in the comments.

featured image by LifeSupercharger, from Flickr

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randy lea November 26, 2017 um 4:02 pm

I especially agree with the suggestion that the author shouldn’t promote their first book, wait for the 3rd. When I find an author I like, I try most or all of their work. If its their first book, I find no more to read, I might forget in a couple of years when future books are available.

I would add that authors need a good web site and a social media presence, my favorite is Twitter because I don’t use Facebook, and also prove an email address(I’d suggest not using your personal address for this purpose). Make it easy for readers to contact the author, just ignore and block idiots.

As an avid reader, the biggest issue I have is finding the books I want to read, since I have pretty specific interests. If a book is a Mystery, I’m not going to find it, but I will find a book that’s a Mystery set in World War II Britain.

Nate Hoffelder November 27, 2017 um 6:14 am

"When I find an author I like, I try most or all of their work. If its their first book, "

Me, too!

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gnealhou November 26, 2017 um 11:23 pm

I’d modify the "don’t promote your first book" rule to "don’t spend too much time or any money promoting your first book". There are a variety of free promotional options out there, and they’ll help get your book some exposure and reviews. They’re not as effective as paid promotions and usually don’t have automatic acceptance, but they can work. By the time your third book comes out, you really want a history of decent reviews.

Nate Hoffelder November 27, 2017 um 6:13 am

You’re absolutely right. It would be good idea to have a bunch of reviews on the first book by the time the third book is ready.

Anthony Pero November 27, 2017 um 8:55 am

I’d agree with this. There are reasons other than money to promote your first book. Plus, its only wasting money if your ROI is lower than what you spent. If you spent $10, and made $20 extra because of that $10, guess what, that’s $10 you wouldn’t have had otherwise. That’s not wasting money. Your ROI isn’t as good as it would be if you already had 3 books, but its still worth doing. For all practical purposes there are an unlimited number of potential readers to reach. Its not like reaching some people now while you only have one book out will stop you from reaching the same amount of readers later, when you have three books out.

As long as you are careful, understand how online marketing works, and are able to track your ROI, there’s no reason not to advertise on your first book. Just don’t spend too much and lose money. Go slow and careful.

Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt November 26, 2017 um 11:38 pm

Services which will write or rewrite your description or your ads – without promising to read your book. Might work for generic SF, Fantasy, or Romance – and get you in the middle of the pack of similar books by using the popular tropes and phrases – but it isn’t going to be much use for books which are truly different.

'Professional' editing services and proofing services and… that change the writer’s voice or style; or that are offered by sites which claim to do 'free' reviews, but have a package which gets you faster reviews – at a price; guarantees of top 'X' in your category.

'Beta readers' or 'developmental editors' who tell you you’re doing it all wrong, and will be happy to show you how to do it right. For big money.

The only way a service can guarantee anything is to find a way to buy lots of copies of the book, for which they have to charge you. And that popularity will be temporary.

Mackay Bell November 27, 2017 um 2:01 am

Very good advice! Sadly, there are no shortcuts to finding success in self-publishing. That doesn’t mean that a writer doesn’t get lucky here or there, but just throwing money around to get attention doesn’t work.

So what does work? I’m still trying to figure it out for sure, but here are some tips I believe work based on my own experiences and what I have read from others:

1. Write a lot. Publish books regularly and have a good solid back catalogue before you really focus on marketing. (The three book rule you mention is a good one, but real success probably requires even more.)

2. Really engage people on social media. Don’t worry so much about numbers of followers, but quality of followers and even more importantly, the quality of your interaction with them. The best way to have people discover you is for them to decide they like you through social media interaction and then they decide to check out your writing on their own. Engage people in groups on Facebook, Twitter and comment sections in subject that interest you. Whether is it self-publishing, or fantasy, or hobbies or whatever you are passionate about and have good opinions to offer. Support other people through retweets, likes, nice responses, etc. and they will support you.

3. Good quality reviews. You get those by both having a lot of books (well written is better) and also engaging people on social media. You do have to beg for reviews. It’s not fun, but it needs to be done.

4. Have a good website and make sure all your author pages/links/accounts look good and work properly. If someone gets interested in you, they need to be able to find your books quickly and get them with a click.

5. Have a least one good solid book on permafree or better yet a few. Permafree is pretty much the best way for a writer starting out to build a reader base.

Harvey Stanbrough November 27, 2017 um 7:50 am

There are valid cover design and copyediting services out there that don’t cost thousands of dollars. One example of the former is Daring Creative Designs (they do all of my print book covers) at One example of the latter is my own non-intrusive copyediting service (free sample copyedit and one cent per word or less if I accept the work), at my website.

Olivier November 27, 2017 um 8:21 am

"Most pirate sites are [only] pretending to have a copy of pirated book." Now that’s an idea. I always thought that some (many?) of the pirate sites that require registration must be honeypots but (I must still be naive) it never occurred to me that they might add insult to injury by not even having the books. In retrospect it makes perfect sense, though.

Chuck Litka November 27, 2017 um 11:34 am

Well, in the 2 ½ years I’ve been self publishing, I’ve managed to avoid those traps; mainly by being lazy, cheap, and retiring. I’ve put out four science fiction books, all wide and permafree; relying solely on price to find readers. Does it work? I can’t say for certain, though I am pretty sure that I haven’t left a lot of money on the table by doing so. And while I’m happy with the results, I also know what there are sf authors who can actually sell many more copies of one book than I’ve given away with four books (17,000), which keeps everything in perspective. However, now that I have paper versions available, I have one promotion starting in December – putting a book up for the free book giveaway on Goodreads. I’ll mention in the blurb that the ebook versions are free, and see what, if anything, happens. This will put a dent in my very modest profits to date, (on foreign sales) but what the heck?

Gwen Katz November 27, 2017 um 1:47 pm

IME, preorder bonuses are a waste of money. They all end up going to the kinds of people who preorder: loyal fans who would have bought your book anyway. It’s extremely doubtful that preorder bonuses get anyone to buy the book who wouldn’t otherwise.

acflory November 27, 2017 um 5:46 pm

lol – great post! I’m so glad I can’t afford any of these, although I still harbour a secret wish that someone somewhere would take on the burden of marketing for me [I really am bad at it]. Other than that, I love being an Indie and doing it all myself.

Kathryn Berck November 27, 2017 um 9:55 pm

What a great post – thanks! I went to Bookbsby’s Indy writers’ shindig in Philadelphia a few weeks ago and learned a lot (am now in Sparta – the original one – for essential walking-where- it-happened research after a week in the original Troy). Much of the BB’s speakers’ advice was was more rah-rah than concrete, but it still assured me that I’m moving in the right direction. I have the first volume of a four-book already up on Amazon and will go ahead and release the other three. Can’t recommend too strongly to take the time to find the right, totally pro editor (one who makes a good living at that work) plus make your book look as serious as possible by following design and layout conventions. Your book should look indistinguishable from the conventionally published volumes on your bookshelf.

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Lois Hoffman November 30, 2017 um 4:56 pm

Great list. I agree with most of the ideas except that building a following takes a lot of time and effort. So, starting promotion is best if done early and consistently from before publication of the first book through your writing career. That may be done through personal and online networking without spending money, although it will cost you lots of time not spent writing more books. If your point is to not dump lots of money into promotion on the first book, that is a fair point.

Tom Wood December 2, 2017 um 1:35 pm

"The first items was suggested by Robin Sullivan, business manager and wife of author Brian Sullivan."

Michael Sullivan

Nate Hoffelder December 2, 2017 um 1:38 pm


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